Getting Serious About Government Accountability
I am really caught between a rock and a hard place on the whole business of accountability in our governments and in particular the "tradition" of ministerial accountability applied in a doctrinaire way.
On the one hand, I honestly believe that it is accountability which is the one most sorely lacking element which in turn makes for poor quality, expensive, often irresponsible government.
Long waiting times for government services? No one REALLY accountable for those lineups and having their job at stake if it isn’t fixed.
Scandalous overspending? No one REALLY accountable for the original budget, rewarded for doing better than budget , job at stake for doing much worse.
And on it goes.
And so, when you read of the ORNG air ambulance scandal in Ontario or the F-35 soap opera in Ottawa or even the St Clair transit boondoggle in Toronto, you are inclined to say "off with someone's head" to actually demonstrate there really is such a thing as accountability and, quite frankly, to remove people who have demonstrated gross incompetence so they can’t strike again.
But our "traditions" and our most immediate response every time in the theatre that is politics in 2012 is to demand the head of the minister or the person in charge.
While i desperately want to see the accountability I spoke of above, I just think disposing of these Ministers and other top people in short order simply because they hold the top jobs, isn’t in and of itself the right answer, even though it’s what we constantly do.
Why not? Well for starters, while as a former CEO and party leader I understand the concept of the buck stopping somewhere, I also know in a big multibillion dollar organization, more often than not the head person WONT know about a lot of things unless members of the management team disclose them. It’s simply not possible for them to know everything on their own.
And often, those same management team members deliberately decide NOT to disclose that information. And so, when we fire the Minister because that is the "tradition" have we really done the right thing?
There are suggestions both with ORNG and F-35 that some officials knew a lot and the politicians knew very little. Which brings me to a second point. If you do in fact fire the Minister but leave in place all of those(management officials) who either knew something or should have asked, have you not created a situation in which such a scandal is almost bound to repeat itself?
And then there is a final point on my short list that puts me between a rock and a hard place on accountability.
I believe every government has 5 or 6 ministers who really do and are capable of doing the heavy lifting. Running a multi-billion organization is not something everybody is going to be good at.
If you follow "tradition" and dispose of say Defence Minister Peter Mackay and Ontario Health Minister Debbie Matthews, have you really done something to advance the cause of better government, especially if everyone else involved in the tainted files in question remain in place?
And that leads to my final point: we are entirely to blame (opposition politicians, media and citizens) for the fact that once a Minister does resign, we wash our hands of these messes and move on to the next shiny object, thinking the beheading has solved the problem and fixed the lack of accountability. That may well be the biggest problem of all.
All of which leads me to think twice about merely following "tradition" if we are serious about getting some REAL lasting accountability into our governments.
- John Tory.